Artificial Torah – Parshat Shemini 5784

From deep fakes to instant school research papers, new advances and discoveries in AI are just as controversial as they are useful. Artificial intelligence has been around for decades, if not longer, but the recent surge has led me to think about the ways in which it might relate to modern Jewish practice. AI can summarize and regurgitate information, but its accuracy depends on the reliability of the source and the program’s competency in synthesizing details in a meaningful way.

The first example that came to mind was the transmission of rules and what happens when the information we have might not be fully accurate or may be filtered through another source. Our Torah portion this week, Parshat Shemini, digs into this question as Aaron’s two sons offer up strange fire to God and are themselves burned as a result. The question is did they have exact instructions or, like a pre-telephone game of telephone, was something changed in the transmission of information from Moses to Aaron to them?

As an experiment in message transmission, here’s an excerpt of what the chatbot ChatGPT came up with when prompted: “Write a sermon on Parshat Shemini in the style of Rabbi Eve Posen.”

Shalom, my dear friends. As we gather here today, I want to talk to you about this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Shemini, and the powerful lessons that it has to teach us about the role of ritual and tradition in our lives.

In this portion, we read about the consecration of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them throughout their journey in the wilderness. We learn about the intricate details of the sacrifices that were offered, and the precise rituals that were performed, all in service of creating a sacred space where the presence of the Divine could be felt.

But what does all of this mean for us today? How can we, living in a modern world that is so vastly different from that of the ancient Israelites, find meaning and relevance in these ancient rituals and traditions? One answer lies in the power of ritual to connect us to something greater than ourselves. Whether we are lighting the candles on Shabbat, reciting the prayers of the seder, or fasting on Yom Kippur, these acts of tradition and ritual have the power to transport us beyond our individual lives, and to connect us to a larger community, a larger history, and a larger sense of purpose.

But ritual is not enough on its own. We must also strive to live our lives in accordance with the values and principles that underpin our traditions. We must be kind and compassionate to one another, and work to build a world that is more just and equitable. We must strive to live with integrity and humility, and to always remember that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.

As fun and fascinating as this experiment is, it’s also a reminder of the humanity that’s inherent in human creations and what gets lost when that piece is missing. And when we get so much of our information from social media and online “news” sources it’s more important than ever to verify and validate before we take what we read as fact, or we risk “strange fire” by spreading misinformation. In case you were curious, yes, the image on this post was created with AI.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: Artificial Torah – Parshat Shemini 5784